Blind date

At 80, the great Arthur Miller has written a tiny, peculiar and frustrating novel. By Hugo Barnacle; Plain Girl by Arthur Miller Methuen, pounds 10

Janice, the plain girl of the title, wants to tell her boring and sexually incompetent husband Sam, just back from the war, that she's decided to leave him. For months she delays it. "But what set her off was his inferring one evening that he had forced himself on a German farm woman who had given him shelter in a rainstorm one night."

Which is a shame, because mistaking "infer" for "imply" used to be a reliable idiot-indicator. If a writer of Arthur Miller's prestige has started doing it, then it may have become so sanctified by custom and usage that it will now count as correct. Leaving us with fewer ways to spot idiots, and no word at all to use when we really do mean "infer".

Then again, considering how the same sentence features that weak, clumsy half-chime of "one evening" and "one night", perhaps this is not a work the OED will bother quoting as an example of anything.

Having left Sam, Janice moves into the Crosby Hotel on 71st off Broadway and there meets Charles, the blind musician with whom she finds happiness at last. After Charles's death in the late Seventies, she revisits the area to watch as men demolish the hotel for a new development.

"Soon they would be reaching her old room. An empty amazement crept over her. Out of 61 years of life she had had 14 good ones. Not bad." True, good is not bad. But this is still puzzling. We can easily work out from various references that Janice's life with Charles lasted 30 years, not 14, and all of it was "good". Miller must have confused himself in the course of the story's back-and-forth timeshifts and got his sums wrong. He does the same on a couple of other occasions too. Yet this "novel" is not exactly long and involved. It runs to less than 50 pages, a pretty moderate mass of text to check over and correct unless you're too rich, famous and arrogant to bother.

Anyway, there stands Janice watching the hotel come down, "wondering at her fortune at having lived into beauty". These are the story's last words and thus carry extra weight. The reader may be wondering what was so wrong with Janice's looks in the first place that only a blind man could find her beautiful.

Well, she had "a pulled look to her cheeks", "an elongated upper lip", whatever that is, and "a too-high forehead", all of which apparently made her a bit horse-faced. On the plus side she had "straight silky light brown hair" and a "very good compact body", so good that "between her ankles and her breasts she was as luscious as Betty Grable, or almost". Then there's her "wonderfully shaped" bottom and "good thighs" to consider, and her "witty", "sexy", hip-rolling walk; but "her best feature was her calves, which must have been extraordinarily fine to outpoint all those other blessings".

This does not sound like a bad package. In fact Janice seems to be the classic jolie laide, the unconventional stunner. For the author to resort to the device of a blind lover, so that the heroine's true worth can be seen with the inner eye, is an absurdly extreme measure in the circumstances. Miller characterises Janice as "plain" according to a norm that would have been a trifle strict even in the drawing-rooms of 200 years ago, and then seeks to claim credit for the wisdom of overruling his own shallow preconceptions. A very peculiar exercise.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all